Intermediate Bible Studies
10. It's All About Authority
It's All About Authority
Why do you believe what you believe and do what you do in your life of faith and religion? That is a very good question. But unfortunately most religious people do not have a very good answer. For many the answer to that question is, “Because my mother and father believed and practiced it.” (What if they were wrong?) For others the answer is, “Because my church or my priest, pastor, or preacher tells me so.” (What if they are wrong?) For a few, authority is really found only in themselves and their selfish will. (What if you are wrong?) And, then there are those who simply say, “It does not really matter what we believe and practice in our faith and religion as long as we are sincere.” (What if you are sincerely wrong?)
It is more than obvious that some people don’t appear to care much about matters of authority in faith and religion. Why? Because many people really don’t care about authority in any area of life! Thus, few seem to care about Bible authority anymore. (Just look at all of the thousands of different churches out there that believe and practice all kinds of different things. Look at the chaos in all the churches. Every one of them takes a different approach to authority.) But the truth is, it is always all about authority!
Just imagine living a life without authority and respect for authority. What you have left is anarchy. And, this is exactly what we have in the world today. That is exactly what we have in the religious world as well. The fact is it is the principle of (and respect for) authority that sets the Lord’s people and the Lord’s church apart from all of the denominations of men and man-made religion. If every church really believed in Bible authority, they would all basically believe and practice the same thing and denominationalism would soon disappear. Paul said, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (I Corinthians 1:10)
Authority is all about the power and rule of law. More than that, authority is all about the One who stands behind the principle of law. Authority is all about God the Father, his Son, his Spirit and his Word. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in (into) the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Do you love and respect God? If you do you will love and respect his Son, his Spirit and his Word. And if you love God you will obey his Word and keep his commands. See John 5:23-28 and John 14:15-26 cf. I John 2:3-6; 5:3; etc. It is really as simple as that! But if you do not love God, you will not care about authority or much of anything else.
What authority ultimately comes down to is the Lord Jesus Christ – the Word of God. See John 1:1-18. What authority comes down to is the Word of Truth found within the revealed Word of God. See John 12:47-50. We ignore the Word of God to our own peril! Yet, most faiths and religions find their authority anywhere and everywhere but in the revealed Word of God. Some churches find their authority in church history and traditions. But, Jesus said, “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men. You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23) Some look to supposed ongoing revelations of the Spirit. But, we are “not to believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (I John 4:1-3) Others believe that we just simply do not need authority for what we believe and practice in faith and religion.
Perhaps it is time that we turned to the Bible and “the faith one time for all times entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 1:3) Perhaps it is time that we came face to face with the fact that Scripture is “God-breathed.” (II Timothy 3:16-17) Perhaps it is time that we listened to the Voice of God’s Spirit that is found within the written revelation where “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (II Peter 1:19-21) Perhaps it is time that we learned to “test everything and hold on to the good.” (I Thessalonians 5:21)
Too many reject the all-sufficiency of the Word of God in order to make room for their own peculiar doctrines and dogmas. They believe that the Bible is not complete and that we must have ongoing revelations in order to know the will of God. But the problem with their ongoing revelations is that they always seem to contradict the clear teaching of Scripture! Others believe that the Holy Spirit personally guides them into truth. But, sooner or later they reject the plain truth of Scripture in order to follow their “new” revelation.
For a moment consider just one simple passage of Scripture that almost no one gets right: John 16:13 – “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” Everyone loves to quote this verse, but no one quotes or understands it in context! Everyone uses this verse to supposedly teach that when we “get” the Holy Spirit we have some kind of direct hotline to heaven and a corner on the market of all truth. (It actually appears that in practice many believe that once they have the Spirit they no longer need the Word of God since they think that the Spirit directly “inspires” them with the knowledge of the will of God.) Nothing could be further from the truth!
Take another look at this passage and remember, one of the first rules of interpretation is to note the context of the passage and ask, “Who is speaking and to whom are they speaking?” If you carefully note the passage it becomes obvious that this verse is not a specific promise to all Christians for all times. This passage has nothing to do with each of us having our own measure of revelation and inspiration through the Holy Spirit. Jesus is talking to his apostles and giving them the specific promise for their empowering in the work of his kingdom. Yet, everyone quotes this verse as if they can know all the truth apart from the authority of Scripture. Again what you will notice is that every single person who claims some measure of “revelation and inspiration” in the modern-day religious world ultimately rejects the authority of the Word of God in some area of their faith and practice. In other words, something they either believe or practice contradicts that the Scripture actually teaches and authorizes.
Once again: Authority is not to be found in self. See Jeremiah 10:23; 17:9; Proverbs 14:12; 28:25-26. Authority is not to be found in other men and man-made faiths, religions and churches. See Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23 and I Corinthians 1:18-2:16; Colossians 2:20-23. What is more, authority is not to be found is some self-appointed latter day apostle or prophet. See I John 4:1-3 Authority is found only in Christ and his apostles and prophets who wrote down his inspired Word of Truth found in the Bible. “Anyone who runs ahead (i.e., goes beyond) and does not continue in the teaching (i.e., doctrine) of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.” (II John 1:9-11)
One of the reasons for all the confusion and division in the religious world stems from the fact that no one respects the principle of Bible authority any more. This is why there are so many churches teaching so many different doctrines; some of which cannot even be found in the Word of God. Too many churches have written their own creed books and catechisms and place them above the Word of God.
The tragic thing is, most people in the religious world do not even realize that the denominations they are a part of have their own written creed books, which are given an almost “inspired” authority in their churches. They believe what they believe and do what they do not because the Bible says so, but because their creed book says so! Almost no one takes the Bible and the Bible alone as the source for their authority in matters of faith and practice. Most tend to take the Bible plus something else. Again, why do you believe what you believe and do what you do in your faith and religion? If you are a member of a man-made church or denomination you need to find out if your church actually has a creed book and then take a long and hard look at the creed book that your church most likely follows. You need to realize that we have no creed but Christ and no rule but the Bible. Consider I Corinthians 2:1-5. You need to throw out your creed books, catechisms, prayer books, confessions of faith, manuals and disciplines and return to the Scripture alone!
Realize that if a man-made denomination throws out their creed book and actually returns to the Bible alone, they would have to cease being and believing and practicing the tenets that made them that particular denomination in the first place! It is within those man-made creeds themselves that we find peculiar doctrines and dogmas that make for all the denominational differences. If we get rid of the unauthorized denominational creeds, we get rid of the curse of denominational division. We need to remember what Jesus prayed for: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message (i.e., the message of the apostles), that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-23)
Now, let us seriously consider the danger of rejecting the authority of God and his Word. If you think that we don’t need authority in faith and religion, then you need to consider the principle lessons of the following Old Testament stories and remember they are for our lesson and learning according to I Corinthians 10:6,11-12.
First, consider the lessons of Cain and Abel:
“Now Able kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Able brought fat portions (i.e., the best) from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” (Genesis 4:2-5) Also, notice Hebrews 11:4, which says, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings.” What is the principle here? Simply that when we worship God we need to worship him “in spirit and in truth” just like Jesus said in John 4:23-24 – “Yet a time is coming and now has come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” This is what faith is all about and this is the only faith that God accepts. Our faith “comes by hearing the Word of God” (Romans 10:17) and we must listen to God’s word if we are to be true believers.
Next, turn to the story of Nadab and Abihu:
“Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of the people I will be honored.’” (Leviticus 10:1-3) Notice that Nadab and Abihu “offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command (i.e., which he had not commanded).” We have absolutely no business doing that which is not authorized, which the Lord has not commanded. In worshiping God in spirit and in truth we must make sure that we “do not go beyond the things that are written.” See I Corinthians 4:6. We must also make sure that we do not add to or take away from the Word of God. See Deuteronomy 4:2; 5:32; 12:32; 28:14; Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18-19. Thus, we need to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. Consider I Peter 4:11 – “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.”
Also consider the stories of Saul and Samuel (I Samuel 13:1-15; 15:1-35); King David, Uzzah and the Ox Cart (II Samuel 6:1-11; I Chronicles 13:1-14); and King Uzziah (II Chronicles 26:16-21). In all of these stories Saul, David, Uzzah and Uzziah did not do exactly what the Lord said and they paid the price. You might notice that as with Nadab and Abihu, all of these men could have argued against the need for authority and justified themselves and their actions. They could have said things like, “It really does not matter what fire we use and where we get it from. Fire is fire and one fire is just as good as another.” They could have said, “But we had such good intentions and our hearts were sincere.” They could have reasoned, “Surely this is a better way to worship and serve the Lord than the old way.” They could have said, “But Lord, you did not say not to! You did not say that we could not do it this or that way!” In other words, they could have used all kinds of vain human reasoning, and they could have said all the things we say in our attempt to ignore and get around the principle of authority and the authority of Scripture. But they would still be wrong just like we are wrong when we use the very same arguments.
Finally, if authority is important, how do you establish Scripture authority? Well, there are at least three basic ways in which we can establish Bible Authority:
1. Precept: What has God said? – This is simply the authority of God’s specific directive and divine commands. What has God or the Son of God said? What have the Prophets and Apostles said? See II Peter 1:3-4 and Ephesians 2:19-22.
2. Precedent: What has God shown us? – This is simply the authority of the biblical patterns and examples of God and godly people. What examples have the saints of Israel and especially the church left for us to follow? See Matthew 28:18-20 ... I Peter 2:21 cf. I John 2:6 and I Corinthians 11:1; 4:16-17; Philippians 3:17; 4:9; I Thessalonians 1:6-7; 2:13-14; II Thessalonians 3:7-9; II Timothy 1:13; Hebrews 8:1-6; 13:7; III John 1:11; etc.
3. Principles: What does God want? – This means simply understanding the principles and implications that are contained in all of the Word of God that we need to learn to apply to our life setting and situation.
How do you figure all of this out? Consider Luke 10:25-37 where our Lord talks with an “expert in the Law.” Jesus asked him: “What is written in the Law?” “How do you read it?” “You have answered correctly, do this and you will live. . . . Go and do likewise.” What could be easier? All we need to do is make sure that we know and correctly understand what God has written in his Word. Then we simply need to go and do exactly what he wants. Another example of how to understand the Word of God is found in John 4:1-26. The focus of this exchange between Jesus and a woman also rests upon asking and answering questions. But, as before, it is all about asking and answering the right questions! And, as another example, in the life of the early church we find a perfect illustration of how we are supposed to understand the Bible. In Acts 17:11 we are told, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
This brings us to a most critical point: Can we understand the Bible, and if so, how? The fact is, God everywhere assumes that we can understand his Word. Just in view of the fact that God has spoken to humankind it is necessarily implied that he expects us to understand what he says. Consider Matthew 15:1-20 (10); Mark 7:1-23 (14) - “Listen to me, everyone, and understand!” If there is a “way” in which (i.e., a method by which) we are to understand and interpret the Scripture it is found in the common sense and spiritual discernment of a good and honest heart. See Isaiah 6:1-13; 8:11-22; 28:1-30:33; etc. ... Matthew 13:1-52; Mark 4:1-34; Luke 8:1-21; John 12:37-50; Acts 28:17-31. The only reason someone “cannot” understand the Word of God is because of sinful willful unbelief. Consider John 5:36-47 cf. Hebrews 3:1-4:13.
Everywhere in Scripture we see those who would understand the Word of God and those who would not. And, everywhere revealed is the difference of either belief or unbelief. What this all really comes down to is the fact that we understand Scripture much like we understand anything in life. In the real world we know the importance of principles, commands, examples and inferences. And we know the importance of careful reasoning. We know the importance of getting at the truth (i.e., facts) of the matter. And, we know the importance of asking and answering the right questions and looking at all the evidence and drawing proper conclusions. We just need to realize that the exact same thing is necessary in simply using the good sense that God gave us and in having a good and honest heart. Combine this with faith and spiritual discernment and we are ready to hear and submit to the Voice of the Lord.
The fact of the matter is, determining matters of authority is not that difficult if we accept the fact that God has spoken. More specifically he has spoken to us through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Living Word of God. See Hebrews 1:1-3 cf. John 1:1-5,14. In addition to this, God has spoken through the Apostles and Prophets and their word stands as the very foundation for authority in the kingdom of God. See Ephesians 2:19-22; 3:2-6; 4:7-16. Thus, God has spoken to us through Scripture, the written Word of God. See II Timothy 3:14-4:4 cf. I Peter 1:10-12; II Peter 1:12-2:3.
One more thing. It is vitally important to realize that we are specifically under the authority of the New Testament (i.e., Covenant) not the Old Testament (i.e., Covenant). While the Old Testament is for our learning it is not for our law or justification. We are under the law of Christ and his Spirit. We must not make the mistake of “confusing the covenants” and appeal to the Old Law for our specific authority in what we do in the worship and service of God. In other words, just because something was done in the Old Testament does not mean it is authorized in the New Testament church. Many things (such as animal sacrifices) were a part of the Old Covenant system of things that have no place in a church that belongs to Christ. Why? Simply because Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and its Law. See Matthew 5:17-18; Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:6,11-12 and I Corinthians 9:20-21 with Romans 3:21-31; 7:1-6; II Corinthians 3:7-18; Galatians 2:19-3:14; 5:1-6; Hebrews 8:1-10:18. Again, a church that truly belongs to Christ will follow the teaching of Christ and his Apostles and Prophets. See Ephesians 2:19-22. A church that truly belongs to Christ will, of course, respect the power and principles (i.e., teachings) of the Old Covenant but it will center its authority ultimately in the Lord Jesus Christ. See Ephesians 1:18-23.
So, once again, does authority really matter in faith and religion? Absolutely! It is always a matter of authority and it is always all about authority. Do you really love and respect God? Do you love and respect the Son of God? Do you love and respect the Spirit and the Spirit’s revealed holy Word of Truth? Is everything that you believe and practice based upon the principle of the Word of God? Can you find “book, chapter and verse” for your faith? Isn’t it time that you quit following the doctrines and dogmas of men and man-made churches in denominationalism? Is Jesus really your Savior and your Lord? Everyone wants Jesus to be their Savior, but they all too often forget that Jesus is also Lord God of all! See Colossians 1:15-20. Jesus asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ if you do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46 cf. Matthew 7:21-29) If you have any Bible questions or would like to know more, please email us here.